Knitwear now spans a much wider area than granny-knitted jumpers and sensible twin sets. There are fine tunics, floppy trousers, and dresses that are lightweight enough to be worn on their own in centrally heated houses and then layered when it is cold outside. If you do not want to look like a fluffy bunny in mohair (the epidemic of the itchy stuff continues), John Smedley specialises in the smoothest fine-gauge knits and uses sea island cotton for vests and long johns as well as jumpers and cardigans.
As well as making hand-finished clothes under its own label, Derbyshire-based John Smedley manufactures knitwear for Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Nicole Farhi and Comme des Garcons. But from next season, Smedley's own label takes a new and bolder direction, with bright colours, short flirty skirts, knee-length A-line dresses and tiny cropped tops in fruity stripes.
For more textured knitwear with a modern edge, Knitted Dogs is a new range, launched last year by the London office of a south-east Asian knitwear company. Unlike the keen knitter and animal lover Pam Gardner who, as reported last year on these pages, knits jumpers out of dog hair, Knitted Dogs does not make woollies for or out of dogs. The name is a reference to the Chinese Year of the Dog, when the company was launched, making mid-priced tactile knitwear, including ankle-length dresses and cropped tops as well as the more traditional jumpers, hats and scarves. You can choose from ranges with names like French Poodle (mohair boucle), Afghan (soft mohair), and Red Setter (chenille).
Sam Chilton, Knitted Dogs' designer, wants to create a totally co-ordinated, head-to-toe look out of knitwear. If this conjures up images of larger-than-life tea cosies, do not be put off. Chilton uses knitwear as she would jersey or any other fabric - the knit provides surface texture, not unwanted bulk.
On a smaller scale, Black Sheep is a family-run knitwear company, making classic knits and old favourites. Clare Hall founded the company in 1982 after spending 21 years as a shepherd in Norfolk, where she kept a herd of black Welsh sheep. She now uses the sheeps' wool for undyed, environment-friendly jumpers made by both machine and hand. The man's cardigan in our pictures is inspired by Henry Higgins, the cardy-loving professor of My Fair Lady. But best of all, Black Sheep jerseys are available by mail order, so if the sales are to much to face your new jumper can be delivered to the warmth of your own home. Happy hibernating.